Use the FORD Framework to Go Deeper with Clients

An image of two persons talking to each other

In real estate sales, you can use the "FORD” conversation framework to build a reliable and loyal customer base. Despite how it sounds, this dialogue has nothing to do with Ford Motor Company. Unlike cars, which come with manuals and are expected to behave exactly as you expect them to, people are not machines. They do and say surprising things all the time, and they don’t come with a clear set of instructions. But you can still do work to uncover what makes people tick. Using the FORD method, you can learn more about why your clients think and feel the way they do and, by doing so, unlock success.

FORD is a shorthand to help you remember the questions you can ask to go deeper with your clients. It stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Dreams. These things hold the secrets to your client’s motivation. Taking the time to learn a bit more about what drives your client might give you the information you need to serve them more effectively and show them you care.

It Isn’t Personal … Well, Actually, It Is

Real estate is an extremely personal business. And building deeper relationships with people will benefit your business — science says so.

According to research by Jim Dougherty, an entrepreneur, former CEO, and lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, the identifying characteristic of a great business relationship is when each individual has an “emotional stake” in the other’s success. In other words, this person truly likes you as a person and what you bring to the table. Because of that, they want to see you succeed.

Being genuine, selfless, and letting others into your life isn’t just something you can do in a text, or overnight. It takes time to create rapport. The other person needs to know that if they go out on a limb for you, you won’t let them down. At the core of this relationship is a shared trust, which researchers say is “a critical success element to most business, professional, and employment relationships.” It’s no surprise that you need trust in your personal relationships to experience the rewarding effects of emotional investment in your relationships with family and friends. So, why wouldn’t it be equally meaningful in a work setting as well?

Slowing Down to Speed Up

FORD is a simple moniker to remember what kind of information you should seek from a client to deepen that relationship. 


Learning about someone’s family is crucial to helping them with real estate choices. Who they live with is one of the main things that affects where they live. But beyond what’s happening in someone’s life right now, it’s also good to learn about what might happen later. A client may be moving in with a partner, but do they plan on having kids? That would require more space and different accommodations. Maybe they have elderly parents that would move in with them sometime down the line. Or perhaps the kids have moved out and your client needs to downsize. When you ask about family, you are getting to know someone on a personal level and that will inform how you serve their real estate needs.


Someone’s occupation can bring up both personal and business-related questions and concerns when buying or selling a home.

The energy people put into their careers—be it as a CEO of a tech company or a stay-at-home parent—can be substantial. Finding a place for them to live that helps them do the work they need to do better is part of your job. And it will be different for each person you are an agent for. Do they work from home and need office space? Do they work at a building and want to be nearby? Are they actively working for a promotion or relocation? Asking these questions will get you the information you need to best help.


Recreation is largely informed by people’s personalities and interests. What do they like to do for fun? Asking what hobbies and activities people are involved in, and how important they are to them, will help you find the right home for someone. If a buyer is passionate about cooking and meal preparation, they probably want a chef’s kitchen. Or, maybe your client is a powder hound who drools at the thought of having a chalet close to the slopes. For the right client, you might be able to match their home with their heart.


Potentially the most personal and informative of the FORD framework is the final letter: Dreams. You may not start a conversation talking with someone about their dreams, but, if you reach the point of discussing this topic with them, they will teach you a lot.

Asking people about their dreams is the best way to gauge someone’s future. Dreams are about long-term goals and visions. People need homes they can grow into, as well as areas that support their personal, professional, and recreational endeavors. Some people dream about families. Others might pine for a suite where they can foster and rehabilitate pups. Discussing dreams helps solidify your connections with people. It gives you a deeper look into who they are and what they want.

Getting this kind of personal information matters. Phil Jones, author of New York Times best-seller Exactly What to Say, explains that what’s really important is listening. Or, more precisely, allowing people to feel heard.

“We’re so efficient with language we fail to be effective,” he said of today’s communication. The truth is that you have the most market knowledge, know all the local listings, and people still might not trust you. If you’re curt and too precious of your own life to not give people the time of day, then they won’t want to do business with you.

If you want to be more effective in your client consultations, raise your conversion rates, and build a stronger referral network, “Slow the process down; Speed the outcome up,” as Jones advises. And remember FORD when you need some guidance.

Systematizing Relationships?

By now, you know that your database is your business, but what is your database besides a collection of information you’ve gathered about people from conversations and other exchanges? Conversations define relationships, and your real estate business is the sum of your relationships, so you’d better make sure you’re having some worthwhile conversations!

We recommend putting as much personal information as you can into your database. Just because you can’t produce a meaningful relationship in a hurry doesn’t mean you can’t use systems to get the most out of your relationships and life. This is simply being organized.

By putting fields in your database to keep track of things FORD answers, you can remind yourself the right questions to ask, make more personal touches, and just be an all-around better person to interact with. Who knows, by keeping track of these details, you may just learn someone’s son or a friend of a friend is looking to buy or sell their home.

How do you get to know your clients on a deeper level? What questions do you ask during consultations? Let us know on our Facebook page. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more insightful articles and research. 

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